Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

Research Student: Jose M. Marquez

Photo of Jose M. Marquez

Can education policy make socio-economically disadvantaged children happier?

Submission Date: June 2020

The last decade has witnessed a growing interest in children’s well-being in general and subjective well-being (SWB) in particular. However, the literature exploring the links between children’s socio-economic conditions and their SWB has so far provided contrasting results, with some evidence suggesting that how socio-economic conditions is measured matters. The relationship between public policy and children’s SWB remains more unexplored and finding associations also reveals particularly difficult. Overall, the relationships between children’s socio-economic conditions, SWB and public policy are difficult to disentangle. Some difficulties can been explained by the possible existence of mediating factors (Cummins, 2000) and by understandings of poverty or socio-economic disadvantage that focus on adults, rather than children’s perceptions of needs (Main, 2014) and/or on material necessities only. Whatever the case may be, more research is needed in this field.

In my PhD research I aim to shed light on two main questions:

1) Is there a relationship between socio-economic conditions and SWB among 15 year old children?

2) Are certain education policies and practices associated to better SWB outcomes?

I use data on education policies and practices and children’s SWB and socioeconomic conditions from 2 main sources. This is, first, PISA 2015, which asked students to describe their well-being for the first time in PISA studies. And second, from PISA for Development, a new OECD study carried out for the first time in 2017 in several middle and low income countries which also includes data on out-of-school children, a group that has been understudied in the field of child SWB research.

To explore these relationships, I use some advanced quantitative research methods such as factor analysis, multi-level modelling and path-analysis.

The hypotheses are that (1) there is an association between socio-economic conditions and SWB which depends on how the former is measured; and (2) exposure to certain education policies and practices is associated better SWB outcomes, particularly among those more socio-economically disadvantaged.

*This project was presented in the ISCI Conference in Montreal in June of 2017.


I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the Carlos III University. After graduating, a public service vocation led me to combine a job in the banking sector with preparing entrance exams to pursue a career in the Spanish civil service. However, the lack of opportunities to pursue this vocation in Spain convinced me to emigrate to the UK. This public service calling evolved into a passion for social science research, which ultimately took me to Denmark, where I graduated from the Syddansk Universitet with an MSc with Distinction in Comparative Public Policy and Welfare Studies, and worked as a research assistant in the Danish Centre for Welfare Studies. In 2016 I presented my master’s dissertation at the LCYR child and youth poverty conference in Leeds, and I was also awarded with an ESRC White Rose DTC +3 Scholarship to pursue my PhD. Before that, I had also collaborated as a researcher with Foundacion porCausa in several projects, including a study on the precarious situation of Spanish youth, and the report ‘Western Africa's missing fish’ by the Overseas Development Institute. In July of 2017 I joined the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills -first as an intern and then as a consultant- to work in the project ‘Strength through Diversity: The Integration of Immigrants and Refugees in School and Training Systems’.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

First of all, I enjoy doing research. Therefore, a reasonable next step after graduating from my master’s degree was pursuing a PhD. But, more importantly, I am passionate about social justice, and particularly committed to the cause of providing decent standards of living to socioeconomically disadvantaged children and helping them thrive in life. I believe undertaking a PhD will provide me with the skills needed to become a decent social researcher and make my contribution to helping those in need. And I am happy that, thanks to the ESRC funding, I will be able to do it in an excellent university, with the fantastic academic support of the White Rose DTC, and with two great supervisors who are well-familiarized with the topic of my research and the methods I will be using.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

There are two questions that intrigue me: What constitutes a decent childhood? And, how can we provide it to every child? To answer these questions, I believe –and the literature has revealed- that, among other things, we need to pay attention to children’s views and reports on their own well-being. In this regard, first, I am curious about what can be learnt from this relatively new field of research. And second, I believe in the important role that researchers can play in helping to improve children’s lives. Therefore, to sum up, I would say that curiosity and commitment with helping disadvantaged children are the main drivers of this passion.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

Although it is still too early to know, I guess there are several different options for me. Pursuing an academic career is certainly one of them. However, an interesting professional opportunity in a non-profit organization, a government body, or an international organization might be attractive to me too. As to staying in the UK, it is hard to know. Unfortunately, ‘Brexit’ has brought an increasing degree of uncertainty to many of us, and making plans in this context is difficult. In the meantime I prefer to focus on my PhD research and becoming a decent social researcher in this field and I will see what my options are when I get there.

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